The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(49) by Susan Mallery
“Actually, I do. Come. Dance with me again.”
She started to move away, but then he took her hand and she found herself being led back to the floor.
Had to, want to, what did it mean? She wanted to marry Prince Jefri. She’d wanted it all her life.
“Stop thinking,” Doyle whispered against her ear.
He pulled her closer. She let herself relax against him. Gradually her mind stilled and there was only the music and the man.
Jefri stood in the shadows and watched Tahira dance again with Doyle. They’d been together nearly an hour. He tried to find some measure of jealousy within him, but he could not. All he felt was guilt every time the girl laughed.
She never laughed around him, never smiled, barely spoke. He knew the fault lay with him. Had he tried to draw her out or tease her? Had he worked to make her smile? Of course not—he’d been too busy blaming her for not being Billie.
Speaking of which…he turned his attention from Tahira, to the woman who occupied his mind. She danced with the British prime minister. As he watched, the older man threw back his head and laughed.
Jefri’s reaction was as quick as it was powerful. He wanted to stalk across the room and rip her from the other man’s arms. He wanted to insist that no one dance with her, speak with her, touch her. Only he should be allowed such privileges. Yet he could not. He was bound to another.
He looked between the two women. So different, he thought. They had nothing in common save their gender. Given the choice…
But there was no choice. Once he’d asked his father to find him a bride and his father had chosen Tahira, events had been set in motion. Events that could not be changed, regardless of his own needs and feelings. What was desire in the face of honor? He was a prince and a sheik. If his word had no value, who and what could he be?
“I hadn’t thought I could design my own clothes,” Tahira said as she laid out a length of fabric. “When Billie mentioned it, I didn’t even know where to begin, but the sisters taught me to sew years ago, so I know the basics. In my trips to the bazaar, I’ve been able to pick up some wonderful lengths of cloth.”
She smiled. “What do you think of this one?”
Jefri glanced down at the fabric draped across the coffee table. Thin lines of gold shot through the deep red material.
“It’s very nice,” he said, not knowing what else to tell her.
Tahira’s smile faded. “You don’t like it.”
“I have no opinion. If you like it, then make something.” He tried to sound kind and interested, even though he hadn’t been listening to much of what she’d said.
“But if you don’t approve.” Her mouth twisted. “You think my hobby is foolish.”
“Not at all.” Boring, maybe, but not foolish. “Tahira, whatever delights you delights me.”
“Billie said it was important for me to find some interests,” she told him.
“Things that would occupy my time. You’re so busy with your responsibilities.
Not that I’m complaining, of course. I would never complain.”
“I know that, child.”
Tahira would never complain, never speak out against anything he might want to do. She was obedient, soft-spoken and kind. In the past month since the ball and his realization that he had no choice but to keep his word, Jefri had made a serious effort to get to know her. She was all he could have asked for and nothing he wanted. Worse, Billie had befriended her so every time he was with Tahira all the girl talked about, aside from clothes, design and fabric, was Billie.
“I’m glad you are settling in and finding things that bring you pleasure.”
Her eyes widened and she looked away. “I’m only interested in pleasing you, Prince Jefri.”
“Is there something else you require of me?”
She reached for another bolt of cloth and began to explain what she would use it for. While he tried to listen, his mind drifted to his flight training that morning. He’d lasted all of four minutes against Billie. When they’d met up again on the tarmac, she’d given him a quick smile of congratulation.
“You’re doing great,” she’d told him.
“I thought I’d get good enough to beat you,” he’d admitted.
“No one gets that good.”
She’d grinned then, and he laughed and for that moment in time, the world had been right. Then she’d turned away as if she didn’t know him. As if they had never been lovers.
He understood her need to withdraw. The pain of wanting and not having was too great. But even though he respected her decision and agreed with it, for him, nothing had changed. He still ached when he saw her. He still dreamed about her.
He could still pick her out in a crowd simply by the delicate scent of her skin.
He listened to the rapid click of her high heels in the hallway and had even taken to seeking out Muffin knowing that Billie was always near her dog.
There were nights when he decided he would simply take her and disappear. He told himself they could find refuge in the desert, living out quiet, happy lives away from the real world. Except he knew he could not claim to care about her if he also sought to clip her wings. Billie had been born to fly.
Which left him trapped in circumstances that seemed intolerable.
“You will excuse me,” he said, cutting Tahira off in midsentence.
She blinked in surprise. “Yes. Of course.”
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